Yvonne Campos is an accomplished businesswoman who built and sold a successful market research and strategy firm. In all her experiences, though, she was never asked to participate in a deal or invest in any kind of company — not once.

“I would tell the guys I know, because I would hear them talk,” she says. “I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some money. I’m interested. I can do this.’ And they’d say, ‘OK, Yvonne.’

But she wouldn’t hear from them again.

Campos doesn’t believe it was intentional; it just didn’t occur to them to include her, even though there are 25,000 women in the greater Pittsburgh area who qualify as accredited investors.

Today Campos is the president of Next Act Fund LLC, a women-focused investment fund with 61 investors who have raised more than $3 million and invested in 12 companies since 2016. She shares the story of the fund and how it’s filling a need.

Getting started

The fund began when Campos, who is a chapter chair for the Women President’s Organization, met with one of the members, a serial entrepreneur who wanted to build one last company to grow, sell and exit.

“We were having coffee one morning, and she was telling me about what a difficult time she was having finding investors,” Campos says.

This woman had all the right criteria — experienced CEO, great management team, developed product, paying customers, filled a need and was disruptive to the industry, Campos recalls, but she was having trouble finding money.

“I said, ‘You know, I have some money,” she says. “I know some other women that have money. Let me see what I can do.’ And so, I put 10 women together, and we did a single purpose LLC to invest in her company.”

Afterwards, Campos had women coming to her, saying, “I heard you did this deal. I never get invited to a deal. Next time, I’m interested in doing this.”

“All of a sudden, I was a dealmaker, and I didn’t even know it,” she says.

Campos had done angel investing on an individual level through Catherine Mott’s BlueTree Allied Angels, but this was new.

When she spoke with Mott about it, Mott said she’d had trouble pulling women together to invest in a concentrated way, but Campos had the right connections. She could do this and Mott would be an adviser.

While there are other women-focused funds across the country, especially along the coasts, the Next Act Fund is the only one in the Pittsburgh region.

“It’s like any other marketplace,” Campos says. “There’s a need. Something comes to fill that need.”

Doing what it can

The Next Act Fund has several goals. No. 1 is to increase its investors’ personal wealth. It also seeks to support female entrepreneurs and educate women about this particular asset class.

“I have women who are late 30s, early 40s to 76 years old that are in my fund,” Campos says. “Some women that are very sophisticated about angel investing and investments in general, and some women who don’t even balance their own checkbook.”

All but one of the investors is from Western Pennsylvania, and the fund capped male membership at 10 percent.

Ideally, Campos says the Next Act Fund will help more women have successful exits so they can become angel investors. That’s why education is important. Not only does the fund provide an hour of education before each member meeting, it also does quarterly educational seminars for younger women who are not yet accredited investors.

The fund invests in companies that are women led, women founded or have a woman in the C-suite with significant equity. Campos says they try to invest in four to six companies a year, while also holding back a percentage of dollars as dry powder for second-round investments.

“We are not a seed stage,” she stresses. “We’re an early-stage investor. We have very specific criteria of the types of companies we can look at and what stage you’re in and how mature you are with regards to your team.”

To earn a look, the startup must have a management team in place with a product or prototype in at least beta testing. It needs a large addressable market, a significant exit opportunity, and a lead investor and term sheet.

“We have a really nice niche,” Campos says. “Someone is trying to raise $1 million or whatever it might be, and they just need a little bit more to close it off. We can jump in.”

While it would be nice to invest in local or regional companies, Campos says they’ve had to look across the country to find the right companies.

“There’s a lot of pipeline at the lower level, the startup level, but it’s harder to find the companies that meet our criteria because they’re a little further along,” she says.

While the Next Act Fund hasn’t had any exits yet, several of its investments are heading in that direction. In the meantime, it will continue to look at companies, helping more women become involved in the dealmaking ecosystem, and Campos will do her best to make a difference in her small way.

“I had a fabulous company. I loved every minute of that, but this is actually the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says.